Massachusetts trade officials are looking to make ''photovoltaic'' a household word. They intend to do it by helping the industry put together an international marketing strategy designed to give Massachusetts-based firms specializing in photovoltaics - research and construction of solar cells - a step up on the competition elsewhere.
Last week Gov. Michael S. Dukakis announced the formation of a Massachusetts Photovoltaic Export Trade Association.
The idea is to establish the Bay State as the world leader in this aspect of the emerging solar-energy industry. Industry observers have estimated that roughly 50 percent of the companies specializing in photovoltaics are already doing business in Massachusetts.
Calling the trade association a public-private partnership, Governor Dukakis said, ''Never before has an industry come forward and formed a state association to promote itself abroad.'' The formation of the association represents ''an unprecedented initiative in its international focus,'' he added.
Becoming the world leader in photo-voltaics would bolster the state's already prosperous high-technology industry based in the Route 128 area.
But this development would also represent a significant trophy in an increasingly heated competition between various states to lure high-tech businesses away from locating in California's booming Silicon Valley.
Massachusetts officials are not shy about promoting what they see as the state's major resource - educated workers. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are an easy drive from Route 128.
State trade officials are intent on ensuring that the Massachusetts advantage doesn't stop there. The state has taken an aggressive posture to promote increased international trade, not just in the high-technology industry but in all sectors of the Massachusetts economy - including for small and medium-size firms.
Last month Governor Dukakis opened a state Office of International Trade and Investment to work with the newly established International Trade Council.
The council, comprised of 55 volunteers from business, academia, and industry , is to serve as a task force to spearhead specific export-promotion initiatives. Photovoltaics is first on the list. The group will also explore new markets for medical equipment, electronic testing equipment, and machine tools.
The intent is to provide businessmen in small companies (who may not be able to afford to set up their own international division) the kind of expertise in marketing research and export services that is conducted by international divisions in large corporations.
''We think this is a unique concept in which we try to bring together all the resources an exporter will need. The whole point is opening new markets, creating new jobs,'' says Brian Battle, the state's undersecretary of international trade.
Mr. Battle, who heads the new Office of International Trade, adds, ''The governor really wants to make Massachusetts the premier innovative export state.''
The International Trade Council is expected to work in concert with existing programs designed to encourage companies to seek markets abroad. One such effort is the small business export program run by the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Smaller Business Association of New England. The program involves doing market research for various products and then setting up actual business appointments in Europe for selected New England companies.
''One of the most important things we do is give businessmen with small firms a comfort factor by showing them that it is not impossible for them to export,'' says Kathleen F. Hagan, manager of the small business export program.
Since the program was initiated in 1977, 61 companies have participated in 11 trade missions sponsored by the program. Those missions have resulted in more than $10 million in sales for the participating companies.
One of the first participants in the program was Jack Rennie, president of Pacer Systems Inc. of Burlington, Mass. The firm manufactures flight simulators and pilot-training equipment.
Mr. Rennie says that in 1977 the last thing in his mind was trying to break into the export market. He says with company sales of $3 million a year - none of it from overseas sales - he was happy to pursue opportunities for growth within the US market. He says he didn't want to have to worry about export paper work, coups, and lost shipments.
The small business export program changed his mind.
''What the program did for me was to convince me that there were an awful lot of people around who could give me help.''